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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Claude Lévi-Strauss and structuralism


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, UNESCO / Michael Ravassard

Photo license: CC BY 3.0


Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was a French anthropologist best known for his contributions to structuralism. The Telegraph said,


"The true meaning of myth, Levi-Strauss held, lay below the narrative surface, and was to be detected by considering the changes apparent in different versions of the same legend. In his own metaphor, he studied the relationship between various narratives rather as a musician would seek to weave together different instrumental parts to form a symphony."


Wikipedia says,


"Levi-Strauss sought to apply the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure to anthropology... [He] argued that akin to Saussure's notion of linguistic value, families acquire determinate identities only through relations with one another." (Wikipedia: Claude Levi-Strauss, 8.21.21 UTC 18:38)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Lévi-Strauss.




"The idea behind structuralism is that there are things we may not know but we can learn how they are related to each other. This has been used by science since it existed and can be extended to a few other studies - linguistics and mythology - but certainly not to everything." (Quoted in the Daily Telegraph, 2009)


"The great speculative structures are made to be broken. There is not one of them can hope to last more than a few decades, or at most a century or two." (Quoted in the Daily Telegraph, 2009)




"While I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it." (Tristes Tropiques, 1955)


"Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognize - because they set so little store by them - the immense riches accumulated by the human race on either side of the narrow furrow on which they keep their eyes fixed; by underrating the achievements of the past , they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished." (Tristes Tropiques, 1955)